Alberto Bellavia is a multi-award winning Italian film composer and pianist. His recent works include the original music for “History Of Now,” a play written and directed by English author Jayson F.A. Bartlett, and the film score for “E Ci Ridiamo un po’ Su,” a short film written and directed by Jean Luc Servino. His compositions are versatile and range from newly developed experimental sounds to traditional classical film scores. Epic Lab had the opportunity to talk to him about his collaboration with directors, and the choice of musical style when creating music for film.
Alberto, besides compositional talent, what are three important qualities a film composer must have to land a job with today’s film directors or producers?
First of all, I think that a good film composer should be honest with himself and not try to be someone else. Film scoring is a very hard business, very competitive, and for this reason we should be original and try to give something unique to the director.
A second quality should be the ability to connect. There are thousands of composers who want a job, and we have to use our time every day to build a human relationship with producers and directors. Only then might they be interested in listening to our music.
A third quality should be the ability to write and produce music in a wide range of styles. We should be ready to write a score completely different from what we have done in the past. For this reason, we must listen to a lot of music every day. Listening to music is fundamental in the life of a composer.
How do you start the working process with a film director when it comes to writing the music for his new film?
Together we discuss the film and I try to understand what kind of music he envisions for the film. Usually an experienced director can give me a hint of what kind of sound he would like me to compose. However, I mainly write the music according to my instinct and taste. Sometimes I just read the script or the plot synopsis, and then I begin my introspective journey to create the soundtrack that identifies the film. I often compose in my head first, thinking about the film and the characters. This can happen while traveling or hiking in the mountains in absolute silence. I try to empathize with the characters by trying to live their moods. I try to become part of the film, to experience the story in the first person, to project myself fully into the story.
As a film composer, do you sometimes feel restricted in your creative freedom by the director’s or producer’s requirements? Or is it rather helpful to get clear guidelines?
It is very important to follow the director’s suggestions and understand his musical idea. I do not see this as a limitation. I usually find the right mood for the score. I think this also stems from the fact that I always study the script in depth to understand the characters and their characteristics. Becoming part of the story is the only way for me to write the right music for the film. Ideally, the director leaves me completely free after that, and after the first listen, he gives me his suggestions for changes.
Alberto Bellavia conducting a film score
In your opinion, what are important aspects to consider when scoring a film so that the result resonates with both the director and the audience?
The most important thing is to use a consistent instrumental timbre, that is, to use the same sounds throughout the film. That way, the same sound accompanies the viewer from beginning to end. For “The Invisible War” I used an alto saxophone as a soloist to give the score a strong recognizable sound, and the strings and piano did the rest. For me, it is important to involve the director during the production of the score, as he can give me small suggestions to improve the final result, while respecting my position. The trust between the director and the composer is essential for the music to be truly authentic. A good example of this is when John Williams played a draft of the main theme of “Jaws” to Steven Spielberg, who was not convinced by the result. Today he explains that without this masterpiece of a soundtrack, the film would never have become the cult legend that it is.
Alberto Bellavia at work
If we take a look at film music over the past century, every epoch had its very own characteristics. From emotionally singing strings in the 60s to funky electronic action music in the 80s to dark, percussion-heavy scores in the 2010s. What kind of trend do you see happening right now?
Cinema and images leave a lot of room for a composer’s creativity. I don’t think there is a predefined style in cinema, nor should there be. A composer should make a great effort to use his own personal style. The more authentic his work is, the more he will be able to use his voice in each film. Of course he must have a lot of musical experience to be able to easily switch from one style to another.
I’ve written soundtracks in a variety of styles while maintaining my own identity. For “Sin Eater” by Carmelo Chimera, I wrote a very classical score inspired by twentieth-century artists. For “Sacramentum” by A. Vandaele, I chose a more baroque style and used an operatic voice. In the score of “Goodnight Mister Johnson” I was able to use jazz sounds of the 60s, thanks to my experience in many musical fields, all very different. My musical background has allowed me to create a personal sound that is always evolving thanks to relentless research. I consider myself a curious musician, and the desire to discover new things is very important and fundamental to my work.
Alberto Bellavia, thank you very much for the interview.
More information: Personal website of Alberto Bellavia: www.albertobellavia.it.